Table tennis teen Ariel Hsing of San Jose has Olympic aspirations
By Elliott Almond
Posted: 02/13/2012 08:25:49 PM PST
Updated: 02/13/2012 10:34:29 PM PST
San Jose teen Ariel Hsing has one chance to make the 2012 Summer Olympics in table tennis.
That chance will come in April at the North America qualifying tournament in Cary, N.C., where eight athletes from Canada and the United States will compete for two berths to the London Games.
Hsing, 16, and Palo Alto High's Lily Zhang qualified for the tournament at the U.S. Olympic trials with four-time Olympian Gao Jun and Erica Wu.
Timothy Wang and Barney Reed, who also advanced to the Olympic qualifier, train at the Milpitas table tennis center with Hsing and Zhang
Advancing out of the trials that ended Sunday was trying.
"I thought I couldn't make it after I lost my second match," Hsing said Monday on a conference call. "It was definitely a new experience for me to come back from such a difficult time."
Hsing has been a rising star in the sport since 2010 when she became the youngest U.S. champion in women's singles. She won again in 2011, and also took home two bronze medals from the Pan American Games in October.
But fulfilling her Olympic dream won't be easy.
Gao Jun, 43, remains America's top table tennis player, finishing the trials undefeated. Teenagers Hsing, Zhang and Wu each suffered two defeats.
If the Americans win both individual berths in April they also will earn an extra team spot.
Making the Olympic team at 16 "definitely is my dream but the concept is a little hard to grasp," Hsing
said. "It's such a big deal. I don't really care about the age that I make it in as long as I get to compete in it. That's been my goal since I first started playing."
Hsing started playing at 7 when her parents took her to their Bay Area table tennis club because they couldn't find a baby sitter. Table tennis was a family game because her mother, Xian Hua Jiang, 46, grew up playing in China.
"When I first started I immediately fell in love with the sport," Hsing said. "I didn't imagine it would get this far."
As much as she wants to qualify for the Olympics, Hsing's biggest goal is getting accepted to Stanford to study business. As a result, the Olympic qualifying tournament is her only major event of the spring. The student with a 4.0 grade-point average also is preparing to take the college admissions test in May.
At Valley Christian, Hsing takes Apologetics (a Bible study course), photography, honors trigonometry and pre-calculus and advanced placement classes in environmental science and English composition.
"We all have school and live a double life," Hsing said of her fellow teen table tennis players. "At least for me school is number one and the most important thing."
She's motivated to do well in the classroom because her parents once told Hsing if she didn't get all A's she wouldn't be allowed to play table tennis.
Hsing wants to excel in both ventures. She often practices serving before school. Her father, Michael Hsing, a software engineer, shuttles her to practice after school at the India Community Center in Milpitas. Ariel, who was named for the character in the "Little Mermaid," sleeps and eats during the short commute.
Hsing trains for two hours at the center then takes a break to do homework and eat before resuming practice sessions with one of her 11 coaches. Hsing returns home by 8 p.m. to complete schoolwork and then sleep.
She has made one other big sacrifice in pursuit of the London Games.
Hsing says she no longer eats Nutella.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-203-7591 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond
- San Jose Mercury News